Parents, teachers, students voicing support for outgoing principal

Former SCHS Principal Michael Halt. Photo: Jim Shilander
Former SCHS Principal Michael Halt. Photo: Jim Shilander

By Jim Shilander

The Capistrano Unified School District announced Wednesday that San Clemente High School principal Michael Halt will not finish the school year at the school and that Halt will not return for the 2015-2016 school year. Deni Christensen, the school’s assistant principal for guidance, will finish the year as interim principal.

“The District has rigorous standards for principals and other administrators as well as a fair and relevant system for evaluating their performance, the release stated. “Principals or administrators who are not meeting the district’s rigorous standards are provided assistance to improve their performance… The district does not take the decision to non-reelect administrators lightly. … Due to the privacy interests of employees, we are unable to comment further regarding specific employees.” The standards used by the district can be found here. 

Current Aliso Niguel High School Principal Chris Carter, a San Clemente resident, was announced as the new permanent principal, effective at the end of the school year. Christensen will then take over at Aliso Viejo for the 2015-2016 school year.

“The CUSD community will have many opportunities in the coming weeks to meet these extraordinary leaders who will help steward our students’ success,” CUSD superintendent Kirsten Vital said in the release. “The Board of Trustees, as well as myself and our district leadership staff, are confident that Mr. Carter and Ms. Christensen’s previous successes, in addition to both of them being parents and community members of the district, will provide for a seamless transition in leadership.”

In an email sent to parents at the same time as the decision, Carter said he was looking forward to the opportunity.

“San Clemente is my home, and my family and I are Tritons,” Carter wrote. “I share your passion and commitment to excellence in all that we do. I will focus on leading a rigorous instructional program and enhancing systems to support all students to elevate our school to the highest levels of achievement. Serving as your principal provides me with the unique opportunity to lead the school that I entrust to my own children’s education. As a Triton parent and now, as the new leader of our school, I look forward to supporting the academic, athletic and artistic excellence of San Clemente High School students. I look forward to being on campus in the coming weeks to meet with students, staff, and parents during this transitional period and to work together in preparation for the start of the 2015/16 school year.”

Halt, who parents have reported had not been on campus for several days, has been supported on social media and in other arenas by a group of parents, who met earlier this week to discuss rumors about the principal’s future with the district. An email has also circulated to parents asking them to contact Capistrano Unified School District administrators and trustees in support of Halt.

Attempts have been made to contact district administrators for comment, but those attempts have not met with success.

One parent, Carter Mudge, said Halt, who has been at the school the last two years, has been a force for good at the school. Mudge is also a board member of the San Clemente Education Foundation.

“I have two sons there, a sophomore and a junior, and another who’ll be a freshman next year. In the time Mr. Halt has been there, I’ve noticed a turnaround, not just in the appearance of the campus, but the pride in which the teachers and staff take in the facilities, and in the way students react to the school,” Mudge said. “My kids express continually the respect they have for Mr. Halt and his integrity, and it doesn’t surprise them that he is a Marine colonel in the reserve, because he engenders that type of respect.”
In addition to the mood around campus, Mudge said he’s seen an increase in student participation in advanced placement and international baccalaureate classes and a lower truancy rate.

“His personality and his skills have had a substantial impact on the school,” he said.

Mudge said he and other parents were frustrated with what they saw as a lack of communication from the district regarding the issue.
A group of parents who recently had an issue at the school regarding a movie shown by a teacher, along with other issues raised by parents regarding the same instructor, stated in a release that they felt Halt handled their situation appropriately.

“When these concerns where elevated to him less than one week ago, we feel that he reacted appropriately and was engaged in ensuring it was handled correctly,” the release stated. “He welcomed parents and students to address any concerns they had and meet with him personally–fully committed to transparency. Essentially, he showed why he has highly regarded by parents and students alike at SCHS and we are 100 percent confident that he would have managed this situation correctly, given the opportunity.”

Halt issued a statement Wednesday evening.

It has been both an honor and a privilege working at San Clemente High School, and I have loved living and learning in this community. The students and staff at SCHS are second to none, and I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished together; our record of success speaks for itself. If I could share one final thought with my students, parents and staff it would be this: please do not view this parting of ways as a discount against the amazing work we have done together. My departure is not based on your lack of achievements or results, so each of you should be proud of what you have accomplished and contributed to this school.

The support of the community I have received since day one has been sensational, and the support I have received since the day I left has been truly validating. I feel that if this support is evidence of anything, it is that I have done my job and served my community in a way that I can be proud of. In terms of meeting standards, I think our recent record of achievement at SCHS and the overwhelming support of the community shows that we have set a new standard for what this school can achieve. I truly hope that the students and faculty can continue to capitalize on the upward trend we started together.

Unfortunately, in complex situations like this, the loss is often greatest at the student level. I am deeply saddened that I will no longer have the pleasure of serving these amazing students and this community moving forward. It has been so gratifying to see the climate and culture on the SCHS campus evolve into what it is today, and I feel nothing but pride when I look back on our time together. My leaving SCHS is not the result of any disagreement or turmoil within my student body, staff, or administrative team. My views on integrity and professional standards dictate that I go no further than this: Thank you for the opportunity to learn and grow together. GO TRITONS!

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